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PUD grappled with outages days after storm

Wind blast sets record for snapped power poles

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF THE COLUMBIA RIVER PEOPLE'S UTILITY DISTRICT - Power lines were snarled on Neer City Road in Goble after strong winds took out electrical poles along the roadside.The week after a brief but intense windstorm buffeted the region and blew down trees and power lines Thursday, Dec. 11, the Columbia River People’s Utility District was still struggling to recover.

Libby Calnon, a spokeswoman for the PUD, acknowledged Monday that there were still scattered outages throughout the utility district’s coverage area, which runs from Goble to Scappoose.

“We still have a few locations where individual customers are out of power because there was damage to their meter base, which is customer-owned equipment,” Calnon wrote in an email Monday, adding that customers with damaged meters are responsible for ensuring it is repaired. “We have spoken with these customers so they all know what needs to be done to have their power restored.

Calnon also said a number of fixes made by crews to restore power after the storm required follow-up.

“Our focus this week will be on repairing the damage to our system caused by the storm and assisting customers who are experiencing low voltage or other issues,” Calnon wrote in a second email. “There were also a number of trouble spots where the crews made temporary repairs to get the power back on more quickly, and they will now be returning to those areas to complete the work.”

About 7,000 PUD customers lost power as a result of Thursday’s storm, Calnon estimated.

The largest outage was caused by a tree falling on a transmission line serving the utility’s Dutch Canyon substation in south Scappoose, knocking out power to 2,848 meters, she said. Other large outages included 2,230 served by the St. Helens substation and 907 served by the Goble substation.

Dave Hill, director of the Columbia County Roads Department, said his crews were hampered in reopening county roads closed after Thursday’s windstorm by damaged electrical infrastructure — including, in some places, snapped power poles, he said.

“I think the PUD got hit pretty hard,” said Hill, describing utility crews as “overwhelmed” by the scale of the damage. “Probably much more damage to their lines and equipment than the roads.”

Steve Hursh, director of engineering and operations for the PUD, gave a presentation to the utility district’s board of directors Tuesday in which he said 21 broken power poles and 10 damaged transformers had to be replaced after last Thursday’s storm.

“I’m not sure we’ve ever had this many broken poles,” Hursh said.

On Wednesday, Calnon noted in another email, “We estimate it takes a line crew about 3 hours to replace a pole, and longer if the pole is set in St. Helens basalt rock. In one area, the crew replaced 3 poles in a row that were all set in basalt rock.”

Hursh and Calnon said PUD line crews worked from 8 a.m. Thursday to 10 p.m. Friday, then returned at 6 a.m. Saturday and continued work on Sunday to repair damaged equipment. Calnon said they logged 72 hours on the job from 8 a.m. Thursday until 4 p.m. Sunday.

Power was not restored in some sections of the utility district until Sunday afternoon, Calnon said. Individual issues persisted into this week.

“The exceptions were customers who had low-voltage issues or damage to their homes or their meter bases that prevented their electric service from being safely reconnected,” Calnon explained.

Some who reported long waits before their power came back on expressed gratitude for the PUD’s efforts.

“I would like to thank CRPUD linemen for the awesome job they have done restoring power and to the people manning the phones,” wrote Marcia Harrington Mullins on the Spotlight’s Facebook page Monday. “I am so sorry that people were not prepared and took it out on you. We went 42 hrs and we lived through it.”

Michelle Haas Strang, also commenting on the Spotlight’s Facebook page, wrote Tuesday morning, “Thank you to the linemen who worked such long hours to restore power to me for my comfort! It took 37 hours, but I know they had more serious issues to deal with before they got to me!”

Others were less sympathetic.

“Still out of power,” remarked Jaime Jeanne Meadows on the popular Concerned Citizens of Columbia County (revised) Facebook page Saturday morning. “I wonder why Cowlitz PUD worked all night to get their customers restored but CRPUD sent all crews home for the night.”